It’s a Dog


Seminal image from Michael Winner’s WON TON TON, THE DOG WHO SAVED HOLLYWOOD. In fact, the only funny moment in the film. Appropriately enough, it’s funny in a kind of grim, nasty way. The same could be said for my review.

The excellent film blog Mostly Film asked for a contribution by way of tribute to the fallen filmmaker, and for my sins I gave them one. OK, so it’s not the obituary Winner would have chosen, but it’s the one that my fingertips told the keyboard to write. May God forgive me.


27 Responses to “It’s a Dog”

  1. Excellent work. Thanks for this, David. I’m very happy to see your work appear on Mostly Film, Europe’s Best Film Website.

  2. The only Winner film I’ve ever found of interest is The Mechanic starring Charles Bronson and Jan Michael Vincent.
    The screenplay was by the incredibly strange Lewis John Carlino and concerns a professional hitman bieng stalked by a younger man interested in becoming his apprentice — in every way. This is Highsmith terrirory and well beyond Winner’s ken. He does his best to muffle the homoeroticism, but it comes though anyway.

  3. Carlino’s very interesting, isn’t he? I love Seconds, even though he didn’t like what Frankenheimer did with it. There’s an interview with him in William Froug’s The Screenwriter Looks at the Screenwriter, where he talks about adapting Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land…

  4. Darn it, now I’ll have to seek out I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname. And, perhaps, The System. There was a perceptive comment here about Winner being lucky in his earlier films in that the culture was more conducive to him making things that played to his strengths whereas the later Hollywood period allowed him to produce product that played to his tastelessness. That was spot on. Crime, Thrillers, Horror (The Sentinel, “now Horror is popular, I’ll do one of *those* but I need something properly horrific at the end… Ah, yes, *disabled people*, perfect… Another of Winner’s winners in the bag!”, an interesting sensibility) it was if he felt work in those genres didn’t require wit or intelligence but a sort of blunderbuss in a charnel house approach. Unfortunately, his later attempts at comedy are as gimcrack and vomitous. All of which you convey much more lucidly,wittily, and knowledgeably! (ooh, who let Uriah in?)
    It’s a pity MW didn’t cook up a family crest, the “suicidal dog with his head in a noose” would’ve been a must to feature.

  5. “Hangdog” is just the right word/image for that film.

    Winner had this cheerful admission that he wasn’t a particularly great filmmaker that could be kind of charming, but I have a suspicion that in his early work he did take it seriously and wanted to make something genuinely worthwhile. And at a certain point he decided to be a total hack. My suspicion is that Won Ton Ton marks that point, but it might have come earlier. It’s notable that when he did return to the comedies which had been his first love, any humour or joy was completely absent. And yes, I saw Parting Shots at the cinema… in the company of friends who turned up wearing wigs and false beards to protect their identities.

  6. James McAndrews Says:

    Oddly enough I watched Winner’s ‘Firepower’ last night-no NBA games on at that time. It stars James Coburn and Sophia Loren however its the cameos and supporting roles that make a routine movie memorable. Along with Eli Wallach and Tony Franciosa it also has Jake LaMotta-yes ‘Ragging Bull himself-, Billy Barty, Victor Mature and OJ Simpson. Here is the link to the whole movie on YouTube.

  7. Tony Williams Says:

    Let us not forget PLAY IT COOL (1962) featuring the late Billy Fury with a great line-up of Brirish character actors such as Dennis Price and Richard Wattis and contemporary pop stars such as Bobby Vee and Helen Shapiro.

  8. The gold does seem to be mainly in those early flicks. The Hollywood period was at least slick, sometimes. I’m seriously thinking of giving The Mechanic a shot.

  9. George Kaplan Says:

    “I saw Parting Shots in the cinema…in the company of friends who turned up wearing wigs andfalse beards to protect their identities”. Priceless. In a just world entire audiences who went to see the filmic eructations of Paul W. S. Anderson and Michael Bay (easy targets, yes. But they will insist on making shit. Naughty.) would do the same…including any family members. Curiously I believe Uwe Boll does the same when watching his own films. Even when alone. Thangyewverymuchpleezetipthedoorman.

  10. George Kaplan Says:

    The Mechanic’s not absolutely terrible. Still, most memorable is the presence of the mighty Keenan Wynn (though because of my age I always think of him first as Alonso Hawk in Herbie Rides Again with a delectable young Stefanie Powers) and the perma-squint of Jan-Michael Vincent as the upcoming gun. (Mr Vincent, another person who was to suffer a sad fate)
    P. S. I may have accidentally commenting under a North by North West-inspired pseudonym earlier after visiting and posting at another marvellous website. Best not to ask why… And if I didn’t – erm disregard this, obviously. Strange are the workings of my mind and terrible memory.

  11. Pretty sure I will watch The Mechanic. And some very early Winner to go along with it.

    I’m currently on a John Frankenheimer kick. His emptiest, most cynical thrillers do compare somewhat to Winner’s shark-eyed attitude, but they’re invariably exercises in style or at least vigour. Frankenheimer undoubtedly wasted a lot of his talent in this way… but at least he had it to waste.

  12. True. And when you’ve got The Manchurian Candidate and Seconds in your quiver one can forgive the rubber arrows. I have some affection for Prophecy, the eco-horror picture though perhaps I shouldn’t, but mutant bear things are hard to resist especially when they’re eating your steaming brains straight from the skull (disclaimer: this doesn’t actually happen in the movie as such), where’s Grizzly Adams when you need him? Maybe something like The Holcraft Covenant is closest to one of Winner’s seventies programmers, though that was boring as I recall (I may be wrong) tho’ interesting for the presence of Michel Lonsdale and Lilli Palmer.
    Hal (occasionally George)

  13. As you can see from the above clip Jan-Michael Vincent was at the apex of his beauty in The Mechanic

  14. Tony Williams Says:

    I thought you would notice that, David, Until i looked up the credits I thought he was going to be a Jill Ireland surrogate.

  15. You know, Winner may be another director, like John Hough, ruined by working with Orson Welles. Neither man was addicted to the wide angle lens before directing a Welles-starring film, as far as I can see, but thereafter both are slaves to the fish-eye. And it just doesn’t look as good (1) in colour and (2) in the hands of Winner or Hough rather than Welles.

  16. Tony Williams Says:

    David, I would have thought the last thing you would be doing is Orson-bashing! Winner’s previous work like SOME LIKE IT COOL (only seen clips of) and something he rejected would reveal that a director has total responsibility for what he/she does!

  17. Oh, Orson’s at the pinnacle of my pantheon. I just wonder if some filmmakers scuppered themselves trying to be like him. I recently suggested something similar about Leone’s influence overwhelming those who tried to mimic him.

    Not that Winner had pretensions to greatness, but he does seem to have fallen on his arse trying to get a visually striking, wide-angle lens look in his later films.

  18. Oh hell, it was the sex scene in the car. Far beyond Michael Winner.

  19. I know the scene. You can tell it’s not Winner because (1) it’s beautiful and (2) everybody is a consenting party to it.

  20. Sorry to butt in with an irrelevant question Mr Cairns, but do you or anyone else feel there are specific directors who particularly *benefited* from the influence of Welles or Leone in a direct rather than osmotic fashion, while developing their own style. And are there any aspects of their and, in particular, Mr Welles’s methods that modern cinema has lost and could profitably resurrect? Apologies if these are numbingly simple-minded or dull questions.

  21. Interviews with 40s filmmakers suggest Citizen Kane gave them lots of ideas which they snatched up and applied in less radical ways to more commercial material. The Killers swipes the structure, and everybody borrowed from the look.

    Since then, Polanski, Friedkin, Bogdanovich and countless others have spoken of the film’s galvanizing effect.

    Leone is slightly different because his movies got little critical respect, but young filmmakers-to-be were certainly taking note. There’s a very funny homage to Once Upon a Time in the West in Joe Dante’s The ‘Burbs, and if you screen it alongside Jaws it’s startling the influence it had on Spielberg. Likewise Bertolucci and The Spider’s Stratagem (although in fairness he did co-write OUATITW).

    Just saw a late Rene Clement film that had a big Leone influence, La Course du Lievre.

    Alex Cox was the first guy I heard really giving Leone his due. And when Tarantino wants an ECU, he asks for “a Leone close-up.” Kusturica also acknowledges a debt.

  22. Thanks for that. Alex Cox’s Moviedrome was one of the things (along with Howard Schuman’s Moving Pictures series) that got me hooked on the wider world of cinema, especially at a time when BBC2 and Channel 4 were still broadcasting an eclectic mixture of movies from different eras and countries. Apart from anything else his introductions were great and idiosyncratic, not to mention that he had such a fantastic way of enunciating! TV is poorer for the lack of the likes of him and his series. Mark Cousins did a good job later on too, if with a different tone (another great enunciator and voice).
    I had stupidly not thought of the link between OUATITW and Jaws, that’s fantastic now that you mention it. Those “Big Head” shots et al. I may be something of a philistine but I greatly prefer the style of Spielberg’s early masterly films (less 1941) for all their supposed lack of importance. They Are Cinema! Although perhaps it’s more philinistic to say I wish he’d work with someone other than Kaminski (and not have anything to do with Bay, and ditch the “humble” jive tho’ maybe that’s unfair).
    Yes! The ‘Burbs! Apropos of nothing, I really liked Dante’s Matinee. Charming.
    I must seek out the Clement. Sir Christopher Frayling’s book on Leone was fascinating, I have problems with Once Upon A Time In America, and one of them is the style which felt half-there, it is possible that I missed the bravura (restrained but still present in the more classical OUATITW, overvulgarized and sputtering in Duck, You Sucker!) which I’d hoped to see in modified form, it’s my weakness for looming close-ups and powerful images apart from the statelier side…

  23. I often think of the school reunion scene in I’ll Never Forget What’s’isname. A wonderful tribute to the English class system. It would be fun to show the clip after If… just to put everyone back in their place.

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